We sailed into the Bay of Islands near the northern end of New Zealand before sunrise on Monday, February 1. Captain Cook, the first European to visit New Zealand in 1769, named it the Bay of Islands after climbing a nearby mountain and counting more than 100 of them. Today the number given is 144. The American writer Zane Grey came here to fish in 1927 & made the area famous in his book “The Angler’s El Dorado.” Although we got up early to see the sail-in, the lack of sunlight made it difficult to see much.
Of course, the Maori (“Mow-ree” with the first syllable rhyming with “cow”) had been here for hundreds of years before Cook’s first visit. They called this area Aotearoa. Today New Zealand is an officially bilingual nation; signs are usually written in both languages. After sunrise Amsterdam began running tenders to shore.
At breakfast we enjoyed “Waitangi Rolls,” just like the Panama Rolls distributed when we were in the canal, but with a delicious Kiwi filling. Then we tendered to shore and walked to the Waitangi treaty house. This is a national preserve that contains a small museum, the Treaty House, a Maori meeting house & some Maori Wakas, or war canoes. Here is some of what we saw on the way.
The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, is considered the founding document of New Zealand. The treaty was signed by a representative of Queen Victoria & a large number of Maori chiefs. It is a continuing source of controversy because there were two versions of the treaty, one in English and one in Maori, and they are not entirely consistent. It seems the Maori thought they were only accepting British protection and would continue to govern the islands independently, while the British viewed it as giving them sovereignty over the entire country. The British quickly moved to institute their rule, leading to a war with Maori some years later before the matter was settled. The anniversary of the signing on February 6 (just 5 days after our visit) is a national holiday with commemorations at the site of the treaty. They were expecting some 60,000 visitors this year, and there are always Maori protestors.
The house where the treaty was signed was built in 1833 for James Busby, the first British agent in New Zealand. It is a fairly small white wood building with extensive gardens full of beautiful flowers. The Brits seem to take their gardens with them wherever they go. In front of the house is a large lawn leading to the shore, with a very tall flagpole & three flags: New Zealand, Great Britain, & Maori.
We walked over to the whare runanga, a traditional Maori meeting house built by the Maori in the late 1930’s in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the treaty in 1940. It is richly carved with Maori faces and designs. You will notice in the carvings the Maori intimidation face, with tongue out. You have to take your shoes off to enter these meeting houses.
We walked down to see the 3 Wakas (war canoes) in a shelter house. built in the late 1930’s, the biggest one is about 35 yards long, reportedly the largest in the world. It is launched every Waitangi Day, with 80 warriors to paddle it. Our bus driver later in the day told us that Maoris would call the Amsterdam “Waka Nui Nui,” a big big boat.
These war canoes are made from giant Kauri trees, which live 800 years or more. Below you can see Mary standing next to the stump of one of the trees cut in 1937 as part of the construction of the large waka. It’s really big.
Having seen the sights here we walked back to the pier to catch the shuttle bus into the nearest town, Paihia. The treaty house grounds were quite beautiful.
Paihia was founded in 1823 by missionaries. Today it looks pretty much like a conventional beach community & is a center for the water sports & hiking that bring vacationers to this area. There are only a couple of downtown streets, so we walked up one. Soon we came to the Paihia Library. It is in a very old house that belonged to the family of the missionary, Rev. Williams. The library was closed the day we were there but there was a crowd of people using the free wifi. It also has extensive grounds with colorful flora.
Our last activity for the day was a walk to a viewing point above the town of Paihia. It was only about a mile but it seemed (not really) to be all uphill. The walk led us through woods with a lot of trees with multicolored bark that looked painted. We think this was probably done by lichens. And there were more nice flowers too.
Fortunately, at the top of the hill was an excellent view (it would have been irritating if there hadn’t been one after all that climbing). The ship visible in the harbor is not ours but the Azamara Journey, which had arrived after us and anchored nearby. You may think there are too many pictures in this section, but we worked hard to get up the hill for this view so they are going in! We returned down the path (much faster) & returned to the ship. On the way we had our second taste of New Zealand cuisine: Hokey Pokey ice cream. Actually, ours was gelato & it was called “Wicked Hokey Pokey” & it was very good!
We had four days of sailing between Rarotonga and New Zealand. During this period we crossed the International Date Line (which is imaginary, so no picture of it) & we each received a nice certificate signed by the Captain to memorialize it. We went to bed on January 27 & when we woke up it was January 29. It’s an odd feeling. When Mark Twain crossed this line (recounted in his book Following The Equator) he was worried that the world would be thrown out of whack if some people were launched into a different timeline one day ahead of the rest. After some analysis he finally decided that about as many people crossed in the opposite direction & lost a day as those who gained a day, so things would balance out in the end. In any event, we can confirm that living a day in the future (for you) does not enable us to hit the jackpot by learning the Super Bowl score before the game was actually played.
On grand voyage cruises HAL occasionally leaves gifts in your cabin while you are at dinner, mostly on Gala Nights (which just means you have to dress up a little for dinner, & Adagio plays during part of your meal). About a week before Rarotonga we had received copies of “The Happy Isles of Oceania,” Paul Theroux’s book about his mostly kayaking trip through the islands of the South Pacific in the 1990’s. It is a very interesting book, which Rick had read last year in preparation for this voyage, and it had an autograph inside, on a sticker on the inside page. Well, it turned out that Paul Theroux was actually on the ship (many rumors to that effect finally confirmed). For those who don’t know, he is an American who has been a leading travel writer for more than 30 years (& a novelist; Mosquito Coast was made into a successful movie). He did a Q & A session in the Queen’s Lounge on January 29, then autographed books for quite a while in the Atrium (it was a very long line & we were told he autographed some 300 books).
Every night there is a show, usually be a guest entertainer, in the Queen’s Lounge. We often attend the 10:00 performance, which is scheduled for late eaters like us. They are usually on board for a week or so & can be seen around the ship. On January 30 we had a show by Bobby Brooks Wilson, who is the son of the great singer Jackie Wilson. He looks & sounds a lot like his father & he put on a very energetic & enjoyable show. He loves to sing & sometimes spontaneously joined in on some of the smaller music venues on the ship. On February 1 (technically beyond the timeframe of this episode) he stopped by the piano bar to sing with Debbie Bacon. It was a rousing performance & everyone had a great time. Even Paul Theroux was there at the bar, clapping along.
On the afternoon of January 30 we came across some wildlife. First, it seems that a bird had accidentally hitched a ride on the ship from Rarotonga. It looked like it might have been injured and unable to fly and was hiding in the shadows on the walking deck. We hope it made it to New Zealand & a new life. Then later the ship encountered a group (pod?) of dolphins cavorting nearby. By the time we made it out on deck they were some ways off the starboard deck, but still looked like they were having a good time.
Since Papeete a Maori cultural team had been on board. The Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand, Polynesian immigrants from (perhaps) the Cook Islands. Like the Polynesian group on board before Papeete, this group taught classes in Maori language, culture, music & dance. On January 30 they gave a performance of Maori dance on the main stage in the Queen’s Lounge. The leader of the group (whose name we have forgotten . . . Maori names and words seem rather difficult for Westerners) is a college professor & official of some New Zealand cultural boards. If I understood correctly, the other four are (or have been) students of his. His group came in second in the last national Maori dance competition. I must say, the first time I passed him in the hall near our cabin I did a double take. But he is quite erudite.
The Maori have a long history of tattooing like this, as you will see in some of the artwork that will be in the next episode. Women traditionally had tattooed chins; today the dance competitors often apply removable tattoos for performances (as I think was the case with one of the performers on board). The lighting on stage was poor & we were sitting in the balcony, but we have some decent pictures of the dancing.
They performed 6 or 7 different dances, but we can highlight two of them here. One is the Poi, which involves the women swinging those white balls tied to their waists in very fast circles. It is designed to demonstrate manual dexterity. The Maori team had given dance lessons to the few children on board Amsterdam & they joined the Maori’s onstage for a performance of the Poi.
Probably the most famous Maori dance is the Haka. This is a dance for intimidation of enemies or potential enemies. Along with a lot of fist pumping and aggressive movement, Maori try to intimidate opponents with scary faces, opening their eyes extra wide and sticking their tongues out & down. Rugby fans (I know at least one is reading this) may recognize this because New Zealand’s world champion All Blacks rugby team (just a name, the players are not all black) do this dance before each of their matches to put fear in the hearts of their opponents. It seems to work. The children were invited back to perform this dance as well.
Well, that’s all the Maori pictures until we get to New Zealand. But we can’t end this shipboard episode without some of the cute little shipboard towel animals.
We arrived off Avarua, the only real town on Rarotonga, on the morning of January 26. This is a tender port that often has to be skipped because of rough seas. The day before had been pretty rough so we fully expected to miss this port, as the world cruise had done last year. To our surprise, we were told to meet in the Queen’s Lounge for our excursion as the crew began to put out the tender boats. Four boats were in the water, but the sea swells turned out to be too high to enable boarding, so the Captain announced we would sail around to the northwest side of the island where a narrow channel had been constructed in the reef that our tenders might be able to navigate. So the ship set off with the tenders following along like ducklings following their mother.
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, with a population of about 20,000. While Captain Cook visited the Cook Islands (named for him in the 19th century), he never reached Rarotonga. The Cook Islands voluntarily came under British control in 1888 to avoid the threat of French possession, and in 1901 were annexed by New Zealand, later achieving autonomy “in association” with New Zealand. They are citizens of New Zealand with NZ passports. Today more Cook Islanders live in Australia & New Zealand than in the islands. According to some sources, the Maori who first settled New Zealand came from the Cook Islands.
The ship finally anchored off the coast at Arorangi, where the channel had been cut through the coral reef that surrounds Rarotonga. We were on the 3rd tender in, to catch the excursion we had booked. This beach looked like a nice Polynesian location.
Our excursion was called “Pa’s Eco-tour.” Pa Teuraa is a colorful local shaman in his 70’s & his tours get good ratings. But this one was really a dud. It included none of the features described in the brochure, but only a tour of Pa’s back yard and a half mile walk down an unpaved automobile road. To be sure, Pa’s back yard was filled with wonders, like a tree that is 10 million years old (or maybe just 10,000) – authenticated as such by NASA — and a stone he obtained in Hawaii that tells him when there is going to be an earthquake. He invited those from California to leave him their phone numbers so he could call and warn them before an earthquake. He is apparently a medicine man & told us that many people come to him when their doctors give up on them. It seems he is the only person in the world who knows how to cure cancer and lupus. He warned us that coffee kills your brain cells & pork is full of worms that will crawl out if you soak it in vinegar for an hour. But his yard did have a lot of beautiful flowers and majestic views.
After about an hour at Pa’s place, including about half an hour while he sold books inside his house, we set out on our walk. We thought, finally we are going to do some of the things described in the brochure! But no. One of the buses was leaving & about half the visitors decided to go back with it to the pier. The rest of us proceeded to walk. . . not through the jungle as advertised but down a nice country road. We saw some nice views of the mountains & some pigs & chickens, and Pa showed us a taro plant and a palm tree he said Eleanor Roosevelt planted near the top of the mountain in 1944. Soon Pa proposed that we have some watermelon, which was back at his house, but before we got there the other bus arrived & we drove back to the pier. We did drive through Avarua, but anyone who wanted to stop there had to make their own way back to the pier (there was a shuttle bus, but it seemed a little iffy).
Back at the tender pier we found an unusually large crowd of passengers lined up. It turned out that one of the tenders had been blown onto the reef while trying to get through the channel & it was stuck there, unable to move off. Some police in a zodiac were taking tender passengers to shore a few at a time & a number of passengers swam & walked ashore in the shallow waters of the lagoon inside the beach. It was quite a scene (some of the pictures below were given to us by our tablemate Bob and occurred before we reached the pier).
As we stood in line one of the other passengers was telling everybody that they might as well sit in the shade because the tender had been stuck there for 2 hours already & wasn’t likely to move soon. A number of folks followed his advice, but not 5 minutes later the line began to move. They were loading another tender to sail past the stranded one and take folks on shore back to the ship. We made it onto that tender & arrived back safely (applause when we got through the channel in the reef). Eventually, after lightening the tender by a couple of tons of passengers, it was towed off the reef & was back on board when we sailed, somewhat the worse for wear. The Captain went to the scene to give encouragement & was heard to mutter “I’m never bringing the ship here again.” We found out later that two of our other tablemates, Bill and Robert, had been on the stranded tender & Robert needed 3 stitches in his finger after cutting it on the coral while walking into shore. Everyone was given unlimited wine at dinner the next night as compensation & those who were on the stricken tender were each given 3 bottles of wine & $250. I told Robert that the headline on his Facebook post of the incident should read, “Shipwrecked on a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean.”
A few days later we were walking past the stricken tender & noticed the damage the reef had done to the temder’s hull and propeller. As I write, they have had it out on the dock in two ports for repairs & have been sanding & painting while it hangs in its usual place above the deck where we walk. If the coral can do this much damage to fiberglass & metal, imagine what it can do to your feet if you don’t have them covered.
And so, after an eventful if not entirely fulfilling day, we headed out to sea toward New Zealand, our last Pacific islands.
We stayed in Tahiti overnight and sailed for Moorea at 5:00 AM, arriving in beautiful Opunohu Bay by 8:00. We had been scheduled to anchor in Cook Bay but the pier there was under renovation so we were switched here (Cook Bay is on the right & Opunohu on the left in the map of this heart shaped island below).
Someone told us that Cook Bay is more scenic, but I really can’t imagine anyplace more scenic than this (picture taken when we were leaving Opunohu Bay in the evening, since the ship was already anchored when we emerged from our cabin in the morning). By the way, despite the name Captain Cook never anchored in Cook’s Bay; he anchored in Opunohu Bay like we did. Go figure. For those who haven’t guessed yet, this was the spot pictured in the teaser in our first small posting.
Moorea is said to be the inspiration for Bali Hai, the mysterious nearby island created by James Michener in his book Tales Of The South Pacific, the basis for the musical South Pacific. Michener actually was stationed in what is now Vanuatu during World War II & that is what he wrote about, but the view of Moorea from Tahiti shown in the previous episode of this blog sure is reminiscent of what it looked like in the movie.
This is a sparsely populated island (about 16,000 people) lacking good roads into the mountains beyond the coast. So to get into the interior we took an excursion in open 4×4 trucks, which turned out to be an excellent choice, especially because it turned out we would be traveling with 3 of our 5 tablemates. We tendered to a pier that is actually outside the bay, on the right in the picture above. We were welcomed by the usual musical group in native dress. Boarding our vehicles we drove first to a pineapple plantation. The pineapples are grown on a hillside and are used primarily for juice. Each plant can grow 3 pineapples, one at a time, before the fruit becomes too small to use. Then all the plants are replaced. Planting these prickly plants on these steep hills must be a difficult job.
Next we went to a plateau surrounded by mountains (I think its called Opunohu Valley) which is what remains of the crater of the volcano that created the island about a million years ago. All of the islands we visited are volcanic, which means that the visible island is only the tippy-top of a gigantic mountain reaching all the way to the ocean floor. Anyway, this is a gorgeous valley with pointy mountains and one (Monaputo) with a hole through its top. I mentioned before that South Pacific was filmed in Hawaii, but one of these mountains was used to represent Bali Hai on the movie poster (I don’t know whether it is the original or the remake). One movie that was filmed here, in this valley and apparently in Opunohu Bay, is the 1984 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty.
When Lee (in the last picture above) bent way over to squeeze out the back of the truck at our first stop, our driver Ari asked if he was having trouble. When Lee stepped down & stood up Ari looked up & said “Whoa, I’m short!” We left the volcanic valley and drove (over some pretty bumpy & uneven roads, all day) to Belvedere lookout. This is located on top of a mountain between the two bays (Cook & Opunohu), with Mount Rotui between them. It’s quite a sight.
We drove halfway down the mountain and stopped at an archaeological site called Marae Afareaito. We saw a reconstructed marae yesterday in Tahiti but this is the real thing, some 500 years old. At one end is a platform for religious activities (men only, of course) & there were several flat stones stuck upright in the ground, looking a little like tombstones, that were used as backrests for chiefs during the proceedings there. Nearby were a couple of smaller platform that were used for archery contests. While there Pierre showed us some nuts (can’t remember the name) that were shelled & strung together on sticks, then lit & used for candles. When burned all the way down the leave a very black ash which the Polynesians used for tattooing. Note that the marae is made of stones fitted tightly together, without any mortar or cement.
We continued on to a botanical garden that had a nice view of the ship in the bay. I think it was called Jardin Kellum. We saw a variety of fruits, trees & flowers here; we were told the names but most have been forgotten (if you know, feel free to say so in a comment). There was also a greenhouse of vanilla vines, looking very much like green beans. Vanilla is an important crop in these islands & they claim it is the best in the world. We were given a plate with small amounts of each fruit to taste & they were all good. There was also a stream with a fountain that looked suspiciously like a fertility totem.
Last, but far from least, we drove up an uneven, narrow, windy road with no guardrail between the car & the steep dropoff, to reach Magic Mountain. When we got to the end of the road we had to climb up a very steep & narrow cement path to reach the viewpoint at the top. But it was well worth it, with views of the bay on the right & the coastline & lagoon where the tender docked on the left. In the distance were a group of over-the-water huts, which are really very pricey hotels with glass floors to watch the fish. They are generally associated with Bora Bora, but were in evidence on Moorea as well.
The excursion over, we returned to Papetoai, where the tender pier was located. Here there is an octagonal Protestant church, called the Papetoai Temple. First built in 1822 on the site of a destroyed marae, this is the oldest European building in Polynesia. It was closed (this was a Sunday), but we were able to see through the glass door. Behind was an unusual bell tower that looked like a ladder. An open air building had been erected near the pier for craftspeople & pearl merchants. We did some business there & returned to the ship.
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as we sailed away & the bay & island looked stunning. We passed the reef on our way out, protecting the lagoon from the heavy surf. And later that evening there was a dramatic South Pacific sunset to cap a very good day.
We docked in Papeete on the morning of January 23. Polynesians pronounce each vowel separately, so the name of this city is pronounced Pah-pay-et’-tay. Papeete was founded by Christian missionaries from the London Missionary Society in the early 1800’s. Tahiti is the biggest island in French Polynesia & Papeete is by far the biggest town with a population of some 80,000. In stark contrast to the other islands we have visited this has the feel of a city, with lots of traffic & bustle & modern buildings crowded together. Papeete is the administrative capital of French Polynesia, which is considered an overseas department of France. The population of the islands are French citizens, represented in the French Assembly, & have the right to vote in French presidential elections (although with a total population of a little more than a quarter of a million, including children & other non-voters, they probably don’t have much impact on the outcome).
We spent the morning on an excursion to the west side of Tahiti, mostly for an opportunity to get out of the city and see some of the island. As we alighted from the ship there was a local singing group in colorful traditional garb to greet us.
Our first stop was a site with a marae and several stone tikis. As mentioned earlier, a marae is a stone platform used by the ancient Polynesians for religious and community gatherings (men only). We were told that most maraes in the coastal areas were destroyed by the Christian missionaries, so that now ancient ones are only found in the mountains where the missionaries didn’t go. This one is a (supposedly) exact copy of an ancient marae that is in the mountains and no longer accessible because the road was destroyed. It was built in 1954 & is flanked by copies of two ancient tikis (stone religious statues). Maraes are built of stones fitted precisely on top of each other without mortar or cement.
This spot was also a lush tropical forest. We saw our first breadfruit tree here. Breadfruit is a versatile product used to make several different kinds of food. Captain Bligh’s mission when he brought the Bounty here on its ill-fated voyage was to collect several thousand breadfruit seedlings to transport to the Caribbean, where it was thought they could more efficiently provide sustenance for the slaves there. He collected the seedlings but, of course, never made it to the Caribbean because most of his crew famously mutinied and set him and a few loyalists adrift in an open boat. Instead of dying, as expected, Bligh navigated the boat to safety in Indonesia in one of the great epic sea journeys. The mutineers kidnapped some Tahitians and ended up settling on remote Pitcairn Island, where most of them died a few years later at the hands of their Tahitian slaves.
We drove on to a botanical garden. As you can imagine, it was replete with beautiful flora. There was also a tattoo parlor here. Tattooing originated in the South Pacific, where people were covered with tattoos from head to foot; in some places this was just about all they wore. It was adopted by sailors on the first ships of exploration. But the Christian missionaries banned tattooing & required everybody to wear Victorian style clothing.
Our next stop was at the restaurant of the Gauguin Museum. The museum contains only copies of his works & its closed anyhow (for some time if not permanently). But the grounds are quite nice. At the restaurant we were treated to a drink so Rick had a Hinano, the ubiquitous locally made beer (quite good). Tahiti is actually two islands: Tahiti Nui is the big one where we were & Tahiti Iti is a very small island attached by a small strip of land. From the museum grounds was a nice view of Tahiti iti across the water. We also encountered an energetic little bird who didn’t want his picture taken.
The last stop on our excursion was the Museum of Tahiti & Her Islands, but before that we should say that although it was quite difficult to take usable pictures from the moving bus, the landscape throughout the drive was quite excellent, with mountains on the inside & shoreline on the outside as we drove along the coast road.
The Museum of Tahiti is a small museum with a lot of archaeological artifacts. Our guide Maeva, explained many of these exhibits for us and there were also a number of informative maps and geological displays. Most notable here (and sufficiently lighted for photography) was a collection of ancient Tikis.
Outside were more beautiful gardens and a surf laden seashore. Across the water was a stunning view of the neighboring island of Moorea where we would be stopping the next day.
We drove back to the pier listening to Maeva’s fairly interesting life story and her less interesting religious views. Our first stop in town was the Marche, a two story market building. We had been disappointed to be told that the market would close by 1:00 PM, which is when we returned from our excursion. But one of our more experienced tablemates, Bob, told us that the upstairs where the pearl and handicraft shops are located would stay open longer. Sure enough, the colorful produce market on the first floor was closing when we arrived, but the upstairs shops were open until 5:00. We spent some time there, particularly looking at the beautiful Polynesian black pearls cultivated in this area, which really come in a variety of colors despite their name. These pearls are big business in this area. Then we set out to walk to the library. This took us through a long park along the waterfront that we understand was completed only recently. Near the beginning was an interesting two headed stone sculpture acting as a support for a tree limb. In the park we saw many flowers & trees, of course, and a monument to the achievement of Polynesian autonomy (but not independence).
The library was an anti-climax. It was the library for adults (we hope there is also one for children) & is a part of a much larger cultural center. There was no interesting sign or entrance, and it was closed. But we took a couple of pictures anyway.
Walking back, we stopped at two churches whose insides are supposed to be interesting. But (par for the course this day) both were closed so we didn’t get to see the insides. The pink Eglise Evangelique is the largest protestant church in French Polynesia, supposedly built on the spot where the London Missionary Society first set up shop here in the early 1800’s. The Catholic Cathedrale de l’immaculee Conception was first completed in 1875, but was extensively renovated more recently.
Near the cathedral was another little bird like the one at the museum, also unsuccessfully trying to avoid a picture. Across the street was a fine example of an interesting tree we had seen on our drive. It is like a palm tree, but its fronds are arrayed in a semicircular row, just like an oriental fan. Well, it was very hot & humid & we were tiring out, so we returned to the ship after that, foregoing a jaunt to see some other buildings on our list that were probably closed too.
That night there was a fantastic Polynesian music & dance performance by a well known Tahitian group. Our table mate Bob, who had seen them 2 years before, told us that in this performance none of the costumes and none of the dancers were the same. One can understand why . . . the dances were so energetic that pieces of the grass-like costumes littered the stage by the end, and the energy required to perform them can only be possessed by the very young. The women’s hips went so fast & so constantly that it seemed like they had a separate power source from the rest of their bodies. And this went on without a break in the music and dancing for about an hour. The pictures really do not convey what it was like in reality. Quite a show; one had to arrive quite early to get a good seat, since there was only one performance.